Pull Up A Stool with Jay Goodwin and Alex Wallash
of The Rare Barrel
The Rare Barrel produces sour beers exclusively, one of the few U.S. breweries to do so. After only a year in business, the brewery won a gold medal in the American-style Sour Ale category and a bronze in the Belgian-style Flanders Oud Bruin or Oud Red Ale category at the 2014 World Beer Cup.
AAB: What was your first memorable sour beer?
Jay Goodwin: My first memorable sour beer was probably the first sour beer I ever had. I worked at The Bruery in Orange County for four years. My first experience was tasting their Flemish red straight from the barrel before it was released for the first time. I could tell it was an interesting and well-made beer, but I didn’t really like it. But over time I fell in love with sour beers to the point where that’s all I wanted to work on, and all I wanted to drink.
Alex Wallash: My first memorable sour beer was La Folie from New Belgium. I went to buy a beer for a friend, and he goes, “Get La Folie. It’s a sour beer.” I said, “What’s that?” I tried it and was, like, “Oh … that’s really interesting.” I don’t know if I liked it, but it was a combination of flavors I’d never experienced in a beer before.
Given that was your first reaction, it suggests that it is many people’s first reaction. What challenge does that present you as a brewery devoted entirely to sour beer?
AW: In the tasting room, I work with my staff on this. If someone is new to sour beer, we’ll position it with what we call the three-sip rule. I keep going back to New Belgium, but Lauren Salazar, who had such an influence on the sour beer industry, I believe it was Lauren who was talking about the three-sip rule: Let someone know that the first sip is going to shock your palate, the second sip is going to start drawing you in, and by the third sip you should start tasting the beer as it should be tasted.
How do your brewing techniques differ from the approach of other sour beer brewers?
JG: We try to focus on one experiment and manipulate one variable at a time to see what flavors we can make of it. I’ll give you an example. We started to make a lot of beers with one type of Brettanomyces wild yeast and one type of Lactobacillus bacteria. We brewed with that exclusively for eight months, every batch changing just one thing at a time. It developed a deeper understanding of how this mixed culture of yeast and bacteria works with different variables: the recipe, the wort, the fermentation manipulation, aging in barrels. After that, we’ll move on to a different yeast and the same bacteria and we’ll try to develop a deep understanding of those. You can imagine, projecting forward, that this is a decades-long experiment.
Do you use any Saccharomyces?
JG: We haven’t used much Saccharomyces yet, but that doesn’t mean we won’t. A classic way to make American-style sour beer is do a primary fermentation with Saccharomyces and then add all your wild yeast and bacteria for a long secondary fermentation in the barrel.
Do you add the micro-organisms at the beginning, or is there an extra shot of bugs at the barrel stage?
JG: We don’t rely on any micro-organisms at the barrel stage. Yeast and bacteria that are in the barrel or—in the extreme—yeast and bacteria that occur naturally in the air, those are two aspects we haven’t really addressed so far. We see them as having lots of variables that are out of our control. There will be some beers made like that, but they will probably come at later stages in our experimentation process.
So this is a level of control not usually associated with sour or wild beer production—taking the “wild” out of wild beer?
AW: Let’s call it “attempted control”! There’s still a lot that’s out of our hands when it comes to barrel-aging.
At any given time, how many different takes on sour do you have in your taproom?
AW: We have 10 taps in our tasting room. Our goal is to keep eight of our sours on tap and two guest beers that are non-sour. We have four base beers: a pale, a golden, a red and a dark. Then we also like to play with a number of secondary ingredients. Right now we have a red sour with strawberries; we have a dark sour with raspberries; we have a low ABV dark sour that’s very tart; two spice beers—one has coriander, chamomile and grains of paradise, and the other one we added bitter lemon peel and green tea to. We try to have a variety so we can find the right sour for the right person.
This Q&A appears in the September issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.